Top UK scientist backs Extinction Rebellion protesters

By Emma Batha

On Tuesday, a former chief scientific adviser to the British government advocated for the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests, offering to testify in defence of the group facing trial for gluing themselves to a London airport concourse.

David King, who served as chief scientist under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, is an advocate for Extinction Rebellion. He likens the group to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, saying both play a vital role in raising awareness around the climate crisis.

“Climate change represents the greatest threat that humanity, as a whole, has ever had to manage,” King said in a prepared witness statement.

Britain saw a rise in climate activism last year, led by Extinction Rebellion. The civil disobedience group drew attention by occupying sites in central London and targeting financial institutions and government buildings.

So far, over 1,100 protesters have been sentenced, with most receiving conditional discharges.


Five activists appeared at City of London Magistrates Court on Tuesday, charged with aggravated trespass after a mass protest at London City Airport on October 10th. 

King, a professor of climate change, arrived at court ready to give evidence on their behalf. However, the judge threw out the case due to an administrative prosecution error.

At the court, the protesters embraced each other amid cheers from the public gallery.

King told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he would consider giving evidence in future trials of Extinction Rebellion protesters. That said, he plans to assess each request on its merits.

“The public voice of climate change has made politicians around the world take note, and even take action,” he said.

“Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has ever had to face. The public voice must be heard. What Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion between them have done is exactly that.”

In his witness statement, King said the world was on course for 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, based on current policy commitments.

Britain has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. However, Extinction Rebellion wants to see the target brought forward to 2025. 

King said that if the government were to commit to an earlier date, it would save lives. 

The London City Airport protest called for the government to issue a temporary ban on all airport expansions and conduct a national review.

Extinction Rebellion says the government’s expansion plans conflict with its 2050 commitment, enshrined in law.

James Brown, a Paralympian cyclist who allegedly glued himself to the top of a plane during the protest, will stand trial in March.


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